on August 20, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Australian bestselling novelist Karen Brooks rewrites women back into history with this breathtaking novel set in 17th century London—a lush, fascinating story of the beautiful woman who is drawn into a world of riches, power, intrigue…and chocolate.
Damnation has never been so sweet...
Rosamund Tomkins, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, spends most of her young life in drudgery at a country inn. To her, the Restoration under Charles II, is but a distant threat as she works under the watchful eye of her brutal, abusive stepfather . . . until the day she is nearly run over by the coach of Sir Everard Blithman.
Sir Everard, a canny merchant, offers Rosamund an “opportunity like no other,” allowing her to escape into a very different life, becoming the linchpin that will drive the success of his fledgling business: a luxurious London chocolate house where wealthy and well-connected men come to see and be seen, to gossip and plot, while indulging in the sweet and heady drink.
Rosamund adapts and thrives in her new surroundings, quickly becoming the most talked-about woman in society, desired and respected in equal measure.
But Sir Everard’s plans for Rosamund and the chocolate house involve family secrets that span the Atlantic Ocean, and which have already brought death and dishonor to the Blithman name. Rosamund knows nothing of the mortal peril that comes with her new title, nor of the forces spinning a web of conspiracy buried in the past, until she meets a man whose return tightens their grip upon her, threatening to destroy everything she loves and damn her to a dire fate.
As she fights for her life and those she loves through the ravages of the Plague and London’s Great Fire, Rosamund’s breathtaking tale is one marked by cruelty and revenge; passion and redemption—and the sinfully sweet temptation of chocolate.
Let me just start this review by saying that I really liked this book. It was over 600 pages but it flew by. I felt fully immersed in the world of 1660s London. However, this book also really made me angry. The reason for that is the treatment of the female characters.
The story starts with Rosamund, as a teenager, working as a serving girl in the inn that her mother and stepfather own. You quickly find out that her stepfather and two stepbrothers have been sexually abusing her since she moved in with them years earlier. This is not spelled out in detail but is made clear from their interactions.
In an attempt to run away from her brothers to avoid being raped again, she meets a wealthy man. He offers to take her to London with him for reasons that he doesn’t make clear. Her mother sees this as an opportunity to get her daughter away from the men in her life and get her a better life. She arranges a fast marriage ceremony and then sends Rosamund away with orders never to return.
Her new husband turns out to be a controlling man who owns slaves and who tells her that he doesn’t want to her any opinions or ideas from her. Her job is to learn to make chocolate. Her husband is going to be opening a chocolate house and he wants her to serve the chocolate.
You learn a lot of chocolate at this time in England. It is just being introduced. It is considered a very racy drink. The English are started to add sugar and milk and herbs to it to fit their tastes instead of drinking it straight like Central Americans and Spaniards.
Rosamund is an anomaly. She is in the chocolate house. She is seen in public. So of course in the minds of the men in the area she is up for grabs. There are more attempted rape just because she is on the street. In the chocolate house she is molested and called all kinds of names just for existing in public. The attitude of the men of the era is completely repulsive. I want to shove this book into the hands of everyone who tells me that women had it better when they lived at home and were protected. This is what it was like to have zero rights even as a noblewoman. It is even worse for the few other female characters. There is a widow who cleans the chocolate house, there is a young girl who starts working there, and there is a female slave in the household of Rosamund’s new husband. Add the sexism into the hatred of the poor and into the racism of the time and these women were just hanging on.
Real events of the time period like outbreaks of plague and the Great Fire are detailed to show how this affected people living in London at the time. I really did learn a lot in this book. I appreciate a book that can make me angry at the injustices that fictional characters are faced with. So, read this book – just don’t be surprised if you feel like yelling at men afterwards.
About Karen Brooks
Karen Brooks is the author of twelve books, an academic of more than twenty years’ experience, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer for five years, and prior to that dabbled in acting.
She lives in Hobart, Tasmania, in a beautiful stone house with its own marvellous history. When she’s not writing, she’s helping her husband Stephen in his brewery, Captain Bligh’s Ale and Cider, or cooking for family and friends, travelling, cuddling and walking her dogs, stroking her cats, or curled up with a great book and dreaming of more stories.
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